U.S. Sen. Al Franken: Juncture of Mental-Health and Criminal Systems Now a Bit Safer


By U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN)

This month, when the president signed the “21st Century Cures Act” into law, our country moved toward ending the unfortunate and often tragic practice of substituting jails and prisons for a fully functioning mental-health system.

Progress can’t come soon enough for our state, where too many people with mental-health issues are forced into our criminal justice system because they can’t find help. Earlier this year, the Star Tribune helped to put a human face on this problem when it published a series about the growing number of Minnesotans facing mental-health crises who have been jailed or even killed in police encounters.

In the past several years, dozens of Minnesota law-enforcement leaders and mental-health experts have told me that our state and nation can no longer afford to ignore this costly problem.

The United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison population, in part because we’ve criminalized mental illness. The problem led Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek to call our local jails “the largest mental-health facilities in the state of Minnesota.” He estimates up to 30 percent of inmates he supervises have mental-health conditions, and many belong in treatment programs.

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